How to help a crazy person?
January 4, 2010 5:19 PM   Subscribe

Parent with mental issues (in Maryland) at end of her rope... how do I help without enabling or having to provide long-term financial support?

So here's a rough one, I'm posting this anonymously with as much detail as possible, but also with a throwaway email account (

I'm a 30 year old woman who had a rough childhood living with a single mother who was a few crayons short of a full box for much of my life. Starting when I was around 10-11 she started exhibiting behaviors like:

- Thinking people were coming into the house stealing things.
- Thinking there were "shadows" that were evil other worldly beings
- Thinking people were "after her"

As I got older, these fears/issues magnified into:

- Thinking *I* stole her things, for myself or for other people (and I was yelled at for hours for stealing them)
- Thinking that other people were coming into the house and taking things/making things dirty
- Thinking people were "after" her (including relatives)

She began cleaning obsessively, carrying bags of "important things" everywhere and talking/yelling at people who weren't there (not sure if she was thinking they were there or they could hear her, or what) almost all day long. She was very angry almost all the time.

She had trouble maintaining any sort of regular job, but still had some money she had inherited to live on.

I finally left home and the crazyiness at 22 - though it was a bumpy departure. I never got the chance to go to college because my grades were destroyed in high school, but have become relatively successful in life by most standards.

The mother continued to call on almost a daily basis for some years until about a year ago I told her I couldn't speak to her anymore because her craziness was too much for me to deal with. Haven't spoken to her much since. Been much happier, overall.

Now, she's gotten back in touch with me and I suspect she has met the end of the line when it comes to money and will be asking me for help.

If I give her money, I know there will be no point when she is "back on her feet". She's mentally ill PLUS desperate the way people who have no money are desperate. I don't think she is capable of holding down a job, and I don't think in this economy she would even be someone that anyone would hire over anyone else.

I am torn between the guilt/obligation of family and not wanting to be involved or in any way giving up my hard-earned money to a crazy person who made my life hell (though I'm sure she couldn't help it.)

Is there something in between? Can I use this "rock bottom" to force her into some sort of mental hospital where she can get some help? How much does that sort of thing cost? I don't know what she would be diagnosed with specifically, but I'm pretty darn sure she's not right in the head.

Before she lost her marbles, she was actually a very intelligent, lively person who worked in politics and for a relatively famous author. She was not always "crazy".

Bonus questions:

Are there any services in Maryland that I can point her to for support instead of just giving her a handout? Or mental health places that deal with this sort of thing?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Does she realize that she isn't well? if she understands that she has psychological problems, she might want to apply for Social Security Disability or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) to get income and medical care. It's still often a long process, and I'm not sure what interim arrangements would be available in MD.

If she doesn't admit she has mental health issues, you will probably find it much more difficult to get her to use any services that are appropriate for her.
posted by dilettante at 5:33 PM on January 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

There is a lot about your situation I can relate to. I feel for you.

I think it could help to look at this as two separate, but related, problems. You have the immediate situation, requiring action (even if that is no action) on your part. This is the big, showy fire that needs to be put out. And the report gets filed under all of the history of interactions you two have had, the decisions that you've made, the ways you've protected yourself, and the outcomes of each action.

The other side of this is all the inner states, emotions, and thought processes this churns up for you. It's always there, but has been now brought to the forefront, and is messing and mingling with how you approach this fire and deal with its aftermath. This often shows up in weird ways...such as preemptive guilt about not getting involved, or anger at feeling obligated to do so, because of all the havoc she's wreaked on your life. These feelings are influencing your thought process and decision-making right now.

You really don't need any more drama or involvement with your mother, and you aren't required to have any. Especially if her presence and demands are upsetting to your health and life balance. But it's a lot easier to approach all of this with some solid internal don't need two raging fires to contend with at the same time.

I'd strongly recommend seeing a therapist, to help with discovering insights, how to process and breakdown all of these incidents, setting boundaries, and accepting not only that you can't change your mom, but accepting just what is. I wish you the best.

Therapists can also be great for one- or two-time sessions to review a particular situation, find additional resources, get professional outside perspective, or a make a decision about something. That's probably the best thing you can do for to be strong and help her in the best and healthiest way you can, without being susceptible to getting dragged down with her, being used, or emotionally damaged by her human recklessness.
posted by iamkimiam at 5:45 PM on January 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

My impression is that it is pretty tough now to involuntarily institutionalize a person who is not an immediate danger to themselves or others. I would think that your mother, who honestly sounds from your description seriously mentally ill, may merit access to a range of social services. If I were in your place I would start by looking up the Department of Health and Human Services in the county where my relative lived and start trying to get to a live person who was familiar with the system and willing to help me navigate what kind of help was available for my relative.
posted by nanojath at 7:12 PM on January 4, 2010

Mom, since I was about 11 you've been behaving more and more like a crazy person. I tried to stay around and help for as long as I could, but it got too much for me and I just had to leave. I'm sorry your life is hard, but you and I know that fixing it needs skills I just don't have. Here are some phone numbers you could try calling. I love you, Mom, and it breaks my heart to have to ask you this, but please don't call me again until you don't need my help any more.
posted by flabdablet at 7:14 PM on January 4, 2010

National Alliance on Mentally Illness ( NAMI ) has been mentioned before as a very useful resource.
posted by beaning at 7:26 PM on January 4, 2010

I have been where you are, right down to being the only child of a parent I don't speak to now facing catastrophic health and financial issues. My feeling is historically different than that of most MeFites in that I think there is an obligation. Personally, I think you want to really think about the reality of homelessness before you decide it's OK to do nothing. Statistically, neither mental health nor addiction issues tend to end well without outside help when we're tallking about the kind of situation you're describing - homelessness is a very common outcome. I wanted to try to avoid that.

I have, in the past, poured money I no longer have at this problem, which I am no longer willing to do. And I am also not willing, for my own sanity, to re-establish a regular long term relationship. So I basically geared up for one solid run at getting this parent set up in a situation with appropriate help and care. My feeling was that I would do this once for as long as it took to get something in place, and to make it clear that if he then fucked it up, that was it.

Your mother needs a social worker, pronto. The social worker can help her get a diagnosis and apply for the programs like Social Security and Medicaid that will make her eligible for the care she needs. NAMI can likely advise you how that works in MD. (I live in Ireland and my father is in Canada, so I know nothing about doing this in the US, but MD has a good scorecard for this stuff.)

You may need to go out there for a bit to help get this ball rolling. If your mother is resistant to accepting help from social services, though, you may be hosed - the "accept this help or I'm changing my number and you will be on your own here" card is perfectly acceptable to play.

I had Rules of Engagement for my own sanity - no cash ever, direct payment of bills if needed only, I would call regularly but he wasn't allowed to contact me, etc - but yours would be different and based on your own situation and your history with your mother.

Luckily I was saved from this form of hell - my mother (who divorced him and happily remarried more than 30 years ago) stepped up to the plate so I didn't have to - and for that I am very very grateful. But before that happened, I invested a lot of time in thinking through this and maybe some of that would be useful to you.

TLDR: How do I help without enabling or having to provide long-term financial support? By making a commitment to getting her set up with appropriate care and services, rather than making a commitment to her. Hopefully the practical outcome will be the same, but emotionally they are miles apart.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:35 PM on January 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm not sure why you need a therapist. Maybe you do, maybe you don't, but it sounds like you've got a handle on the situation. Personally, I think friends are more useful than therapists for things like this.

Understand, regardless, that your mother hasn't hit rock bottom, not yet. You mustn't cushion the blow, otherwise she'll become financially dependent upon you. That's not good for either of you in the long term. Hitting rock bottom may or may not cause her to seek help. It might not. There might be no way for her to get better. But if there's any chance of her getting better, it'll be because she sees the need for it. The only way that will happen is if events force her to see it.

I've been there. My mom's schizophrenic. I understand the desire to help. Don't indulge that desire because you almost certainly can't help her, not constructively. She needs to help herself, and flabdablet's advice is the only way for you to proceed, unfortunately. Good luck.
posted by smorange at 11:48 PM on January 4, 2010

Yes, she needs to apply for SSI/SSDI, ASAP. However, for her to win a disability determination on the basis of a mental health disability, she needs to have some documentation of her disorder. Has she ever been hospitalized for a mental health emergency in the past? Has she ever seen a psychiatrist? Because if she has, she's going to need to get a copy of the documentation from these encounters with the mental health system in order to strengthen her case. If she hasn't seen a doctor, it's going to be imperative that she does, both to document her disorder for the purpose of receiving disability and also to establish what type of disorder she suffers from so a treatment plan can be put into place.

If your mother is dead set against seeing a psychiatrist or going to an outpatient program, the SSI/SSDI stick and carrot can prove very effective for engaging people in treatment. If she has a substantial work history, her benefit will be based on her past income and can be significant. If she does not have a work history, her income will be nominal but enough to keep a roof over her head. You can stress that there is likely money in it for her if she engages in treatment. You will be telling the truth and this is a powerful motivator for someone living in crushing poverty due to a mental health disability.

She will also need to go to the county assitance office and apply for Medicaid if she intends to seek mental health treatment. I would encourage her to apply for food stamps and cash benefits, also. If she is incapable of doing this on her own, which is likely, she will need a mental health professional to do outreach with her and attempt to engage her in these services.

You need to be more specific than Maryland. These services are determined at the county level. If you are not comfortable responding with the county your mother lives in you can contact me privately and I'll try to give you more specific instructions once I have that information.
posted by The Straightener at 6:40 AM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

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